Transit options limited for Sunderland’s seniors

  • The South County Senior Center on North Main Street in South Deerfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2021 12:33:59 PM

SUNDERLAND — Crisscrossing transit authorities and an unused van are two of the obstacles Sunderland seniors must navigate to reach their regional senior center.

The South County Senior Center on Main Street in South Deerfield is the regional resource for the seniors of Sunderland — along with Deerfield and Whately — but its residents face additional challenges to reach the center because of the town’s membership with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA). Sunderland is in PVTA’s district, while most other Franklin County towns are part of the Franklin Regional Transit Authority’s (FRTA) district.

At a July Selectboard meeting, Chair Tom Fydenkevez brought up frustrations with public transportation for residents, both young and old.

“We have a bus service, but it doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of our residents,” Fydenkevez said at the July 26 meeting. “If you live in Sunderland and want to go to the doctor in Greenfield, God bless you.”

Fydenkevez said seniors have vented their frustration to him and it should be easier for Sunderland residents to get around their own county.

“We should be making it easier for our residents to use public transportation, not harder,” Fydenkevez said in a phone interview. “If I have residents that identify with Franklin County, then I should be able to get them to the county city of Greenfield.”

Brandy Pelletier, PVTA’s manager of marketing, advertising and public relations, said there is limited service to Deerfield, despite it being out of their coverage area.

“We do offer a little bit of service although Deerfield is not a member,” Pelletier said. “(People can take) Route 46, which will service Sunderland and South Deerfield.”

Although PVTA provides service to South Deerfield, Pelletier noted that the route drops riders off in the center of town and they would have to walk the rest of the way to the Senior Center.

Fydenkevez said it is ridiculous to expect seniors, who may have disabilities, to walk when the Senior Center is only a half-mile up the street.

“How silly is that,” Fydenkevez said. “I can’t make this stuff up. Why would it be so hard to get from the center of town? We’re talking seniors.”

Fydenkevez envisions PVTA and FRTA working together to support not only seniors in the community, but Sunderland’s residents as a whole.

“I would think the FRTA and PVTA could get together and make that happen,” Fydenkevez said. “Why do you have to have these two separate entities if we can’t provide good service for all our residents?”

FRTA Administrator Tina Cote said there is “no real easy solution” because Sunderland is a member of PVTA and needs to bring these concerns directly to them.

“It was something that was decided long ago,” Cote said about Sunderland’s PVTA membership. “Sunderland has to go to PVTA.”

She added this issue of neighboring towns having separate transit authorities is not unique to southern Franklin County. Phillipston, despite being in Worcester County, is a member of FRTA while its neighbor, Royalston, is a Montachusett Regional Transit Authority member.

Cote said she has not been made aware of these transit issues from either the town or seniors struggling to reach the Senior Center, but FRTA can only do so much anyway because Sunderland is not a member town.

“Nobody has reached out to us from Sunderland,” Cote said. “If they’re having difficulty reaching the Senior Center, then that’s something they have to bring up to the Senior Center director or town administration.”

Though Cote re-emphasized that Sunderland must bring these issues to PVTA, she added that seniors are put in a difficult situation.

“The conversation needs to be had between PVTA and Sunderland,” Cote said. “It unfortunately impacts the most vulnerable, especially in this heat.”

FRTA provides limited service to Sunderland through its Route 22 bus, but it only stops at Sugarloaf Estates and is only available Monday through Friday, according FRTA’s website.

FRTA’s weekend program, FRTA Access, does not provide service to Sunderland, according to its webpage.

Beyond public transit issues, the Senior Center has a transport van that has yet to be driven since it was donated by the Hatfield Council on Aging last September.

Sue Corey, the Senior Center’s program coordinator, said the center has to hire a driver, which will need to be approved by the Deerfield Selectboard.

“We have to find what it would take for us to get that van in use,” Corey said, “which we would love.”

Corey added many Sunderland seniors work with each other to get to the Senior Center and she is hopeful they can provide more options soon.

“They work with their peers on that,” Corey said. “We look forward to being able to utilize the van that was donated to us.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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